A study of thousands of children in Denmark found that those cycling or walking to school are better able to learn, the head of Copenhagen's Bicycle Program Marie Kastrup has said.
Ms Kastrup was taking part in a workshop in Dublin on Monday bringing Danish and Dutch experts to brainstorm transport solutions as part of the Velo-City cycling conference which runs until Friday.
“The bicycle should never be the goal in itself but if we have a clear vision of what the future will be like the bike can be a tool,” she said.
Opening the workshop the Dutch ambassador to Ireland Adriaan Palm said cycling in Ireland was “a challenge and making changes to the infrastructure is a necessity”.
About three years ago, Danish researchers studied 7,000 school children to assess if healthy meals helped learning, Ms Kastrup said. They found no differences from diet but discovered that the children who walked or cycled to school “could concentrate for longer and remember things more easily”.
Herbert Tiemens of Dutch Cycling Embassy, a Delft-based public private network, said Dutch cycling culture was more social and relaxed. Cyclists chat as they cycle beside each other, rarely wear helmets and cycle for fun much more than in Denmark.
He wore an air quality monitor on his walk from his hotel to the Danish embassy in Harcourt Street and found Dublin’s air quality was “not good” in large stretches. His monitor recorded an average of 29 microgrammes per cubic metre of air, identifying some of the worst air quality on the footpaths beside Stephen’s Green.
This would compare to around 10 microgrammes per cubic metre in his home city of Utrecht. Most of the pollution was coming from cars, he said.
Communications manager with the Dutch Cycling Embassy Chris Bruntlett said children "are the ones that ultimately benefit" from a cycling culture. The Canadian who lives in Delft, in the western Netherlands, the said his 10-year-old son could cycle alone to school. "Dutch children are the happiest children in the world," he added.
Ms Kastrup said Copenhagen’s cycling culture started with a political vision in 2007 to make it a world class cycling city. Cycling for the masses was needed, she said, not just for “the hipster guys who are not afraid of anything out in the traffic.”
Head of Denmark’s Cycle Superhighway programme Sidsel Hjuler said bicycle infrastructure was “insanely cheap” compared to other kinds of infrastructure and Denmark’s long cycle super highways are being used for exercise, to combine the commute to work with a workout. “People don’t have time to squeeze in health so they build it into the transport.”
Dutch cycle safety expert Rico Andriesse said infrastructure wasn’t the only thing that made the Netherlands the safest country in the world for cycling.
“It’s about choosing the right places to build your infrastructure.”
A first solution was to mix bikes with cars by lowering the speed limits to 30km/h, he said. Anything over that limit required separate cycling space, he said. There was safety in numbers, he added. Cities became safer for cyclists if they were places where “there’s always a cyclist in your view so you take care”.